“Run!” someone shrieked, and I did—across greedy sand and down into the lake. Underwater, I watched my brother gesticulate upward as if he thought I was lost. We surfaced to a frenetic orb of winged stingers hovering inches above our noses.

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Comin’ Down On a Sunny Day

Screen door slam. “Ass-hat!” my Tom-Collinsed niece shouts. Her husband follows shaking his pork-belly head. A pile of fried chicken, potato salad, and two empty plates. I ask ol’ tomcat between chews what she meant as they back out of my driveway.

The Night of the Fox

The first night it happened Margaret awoke to find a small fox standing on her chest. She instinctively froze, not realizing she was holding her breath until the fox shifted his weight from his front to his hind paws. She felt the pressure of the animal ease off her cleavage and sink further into her belly. She exhaled, then stole a quick glance at her daughter, still sleeping in her crib. She could feel the fox’s stare as she did this.

Margaret blinked back to calm eyes, which turned her fear down to a simmer. Even in the dark room, she saw intelligence on his face. His expression reminded her of a day long ago when her grandfather consoled her after falling down the front stoop. The fox slowly lowered his long, thin nose. She saw the white of his chin recede in her field of vision as the plain of rust on top of his head expanded down the length of his body.

He tapped gently on her collarbone to get her to focus. When he was sure she was present again, he turned his head toward Ella. Following his gaze she saw that Ella had thrown off her blanket in her sleep. Margaret was reassured by the gurgling sounds only a sleeping baby could make.

With a quick wink he jumped off the chair–updraft of musk and the smell of fresh soil–and across the plush rug. When he approached the crib, he reached a paw through the slats, grabbed a corner of the pink blanket, and patted it over Ella.

Satisfied with his work he scampered over to the wall below the window and knocked. Three quick raps. Then Margaret heard the unmistakable sound of birds chirping before three starlings zipped into the room. One held a green ribbon in its beak, the loose end fluttering by her face like a butterfly.

The ribbonless birds swooped, picked up a Winnie the Pooh barrette in tandem from the mantle above the fireplace, and clipped it onto a small tuft of Ella’s hair. Blink of an eye. Meanwhile, the third bird dexterously tied the ribbon into a bow on the top railing of Ella’s crib. Four more quick raps. The birds sailed out and the fox hopped onto the sill.  He kicked out his right paw with a flair and gracefully jumped down into the flowerbed Margaret herself had planted that very morning. She saw the birds struggling to hoist up the screen from the lawn. Two paws helped them lift it vertically and the screen clicked into place.


Preposterous, Margaret thought. The very idea. She decided the whole sequence was a product of lack of sleep and midnight feedings. She picked Ella up careful to  avoid the birds’ pretty bow. She closed the curtains. A lullaby about silver clouds and blue birds and only loves popped into Margaret’s head. The more she sang it the more she grew convinced that the visit had actually occurred. She was singing still when she heard the sound of her husband’s alarm clock in the next room.

“I think a fox winked at me last night,” Margaret told her husband over breakfast.


Margaret recounted the strange event, describing every minute detail to convince him, and herself, of its reality. Her husband remained bullishly unphased. When Margaret finished her husband concluded between chews of his toast that it had been just a dream.

She took his hand to the pink bedroom. She showed him the green bow on the cradle. They discussed the intricacy of the ribbon’s lacing–far superior to either of their abilities. She lifted the curtain and pointed out the fox tracks in the dirt. She even hauled out her plastic bag of ribbons, dumped its contents onto the floor, and together they determined that they did not own green ribbon. She expressed her disappointment that birds, and not her own mother, had clipped the first barrette in Ella’s hair. It was the only thing during the fantastical night that she regretted.

“What do you think it means?” her husband wondered. She heard a note of psychoanalysis in his voice. He was still not convinced.

“I haven’t the foggiest.”

“Didn’t you ask the fox?” A ludicrous question in any other circumstance.

“It hadn’t occurred to me,” Margaret said.



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Irfan says it means “broken pieces,
reunited,” as we rearrange picnic tables
linearly. We eat: polynomials aligned
between paper plates. Our sums
ask for seconds then run down
to the pier. Flip-flopped variables.
Playing cards appear; 
I keep score,
tallying different equations.


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Lines of Credit


“When did you know you were lost?” he asked. He wore a green vest that partially obscured the peaceful beach scene on his t-shirt. The brown and blue wavy lines sharply contrasted the meticulously parallel aisles in this little gas station somewhere in western Nebraska. The cashier propped himself up on the counter between us using both of his tattooed arms.

“On Easton. The third time I passed that barn with the tractor mural. Any idea where 12774 is?” I handed over my credit card to pay for the gas and a packet of sunflower seeds.

“Easton’s tricky. Ends at Owen Road and doesn’t pick back up for seven blocks. Might be time to invest in a GPS, bud,” and then he walked my card over to a machine tentacled with wires that stretched out over every surface of his workspace. Two off-key notes chimed: bing bong. We both looked toward the door.

A woman—her face, eyes, mouth, even her nostrils all circles—stood in the center of the main aisle. She and the cashier stared at each other for a long moment.

“Amanda? What the fuck? I’m working.”

“I found it, Darrell. I found all of it! And don’t think your sorry ass is staying at my place no more. I have kids to think about. I don’t want them anywhere near that. Your shit’s in the parking lot.” She turned her back to us. Two dings—more accusatory than the first —sirened as Amanda shoved the door open with both hands. Darrell ran out after her screaming something about how whatever she’d found helped him to pay the rent. He made a point not to name his transgression.

I was left with the rurrs and whizzes of the six refrigerators chilling more drinks than there were residents in the county. I checked the counter for my card. When I stepped behind it to search further, I heard the rising intensity of their muffled argument through the bulletproof glass.

They stood off about halfway between the station door and the first pump. Amanda had her back to me, hands on hips. I could tell she was looking at her still-running car as Darrell yelled at her, jabbing my credit card in her face on every third word. Fumes escaped from the car’s tail pipe as if fleeing the scene of a crime. To the left of the car sat two open diaper boxes and a scratched-up motorcycle helmet. The decal on the side of the helmet was of a woman’s breast, a jeweled charm dangling from its pierced nipple.

I vacillated. I didn’t want to get involved; I also didn’t want the argument to escalate any further before I could get my card back. Two more dings rang out like the beginning of a boxing match. Ding ding.

“You have my card, man,” I said as rationally as I could.

He stopped gesticulating and turned to me. “Stay the fuck outta this.”

“I don’t want the fuck in it. Just give me my card back and I’m gone.” A car door slammed. Amanda. She gunned the engine, spraying gravel toward us. Darrell sprinted after her managing to pound her trunk once before the cornfields of Route 71 hid her from sight.

Darrell’s shoulders fell when he finally gave up running. He scratched his head and turned around. When he got back to me, I asked him what he was going to do.

“Boss has a cot in back he uses to sleep off hangovers before he goes home. Don’t think he’ll mind if I use it a few nights. I’ll be fine.” He handed me my card without stopping. I heard two soft dings uhh hemmm, then I was alone.

For a second I wondered if he’d even charged me for the gas, then I figured it didn’t matter. I put the nozzle back in its cradle, screwed the black cap onto my tank. When I drove by the front of the store on my loop out of the station, I saw him sitting head-in-hands on a low pallet of pork rinds.


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Game Ends

He taught me how to read people’s eyes.

It wasn’t until our third date that I realized our intentions were different. This revelation hurt my feelings at first, but then I realized I could learn about flirting from him. Plus, I’d have a good excuse to be here studying the clientele. On our fifth night, he said “You’ll have a date by the end of the night, but not with me.”

His name was Greg. We were people-watching at Game Ends, a bar across town that has a patio out back stuffed with hydrangeas and wrought iron furniture. We’d end up here every time we got together. He was studying Behavioral Science and liked to put his knowledge to good use. Gay bars were his favorite venue.

“I don’t want to date you.”

“I know you don’t. Not anymore.”

I blushed. The truth was I had been interested. Greg had this endearing habit of jutting out his jaw after taking swigs from his drink. He tempered his confidence with quickly served self-deprecating jokes—the kind that let you know he didn’t take himself too seriously, not the kind that made you feel bad for him.

“The one wearing the Tigers cap up there just met my eyes then looked down at his feet. I think he’s my ride home tonight.” Greg raised his Zima to me. I clinked it, then searched the crowded space.

I found Tigers Cap talking to another guy wearing a backwards cap underneath ‘The Promenade’ sign at the top of the stairs. Despite the big-ass sign the owners put up a few years ago, everyone still called the complicated boardwalk around the patio ‘the Escher.’ It connected the back doors of all the businesses on this small city block making a sort of outdoor mall. The different heights of the doors required a network of ramps that seemed more and more impossible the higher you climbed.

Tigers Cap and his friend looked over at me. I waved for them to come down without Greg seeing me. I had a sudden urge to surprise him and knew he wouldn’t mind skipping a few steps in his process.

“He’s walking this way. What are you going to do?”

“I just have to sit here talking to you until I catch him looking again. Then I have to swing on the hope that he likes a guy with a gap in his teeth.”

“You’re not worried he’ll think we’re together?”

“Nope. He’s been here before; he knows we don’t leave the bar together.”

“Had your eye on him for a while now, huh? What if he hadn’t seen us before?”

“He’d be wondering. Or he might know to check our feet to see if they were pointing toward each other.” Greg was right; our feet were akimbo.

“I’m thinking most people wouldn’t know to check foot direction. Is that how you knew I’m not interested?”

“Nah. Your pupils don’t dilate when you see me anymore, and you blink less when you talk to me.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. We’d never work anyway. We’re too much alike.”

“No, we’re not. You’re into grunge, and football, and the direction of guys’ feet. I’m into techno, and boy bands, and the definition of guys’ abs.”

“No, not like that. I mean we both notice things. There’s no way we’d get through a conversation without picking apart each other’s body language. We’d analyze the fun right out of being together.”

“Girl, I wasn’t like that till I met you,” I said in my best RuPaul voice.

“I seem to recall your opening line to me.” He threw his left shoulder back and narrowed his eyes, “‘I like a man who checks out the scene before he pounces.’ You hadn’t been out here for more than a minute before you started chatting me up.”

“I don’t say things like that.” I deadpanned, and then cracked. I was still laughing when Tigers Cap and his friend arrived at our table.

“Hi, fellas. Care to sit down?” Greg said with no surprise in his voice at all. He pulled out a heavy chair.

“Hey, what are you two laughing at?”

“Greg here was doing a really bad impression. I’m Andy, by the way,” and I reached over to shake hands. I noticed the friend’s feet were pointing straight at me. I winked at Greg, just as he was reprising his imitation.